World equity markets advanced on Friday, on track to end the quarter with double-digit gains, as reports showing the U.S. economy and consumer sentiment still on the road to recovery helped buoy prices.
The data also lifted safe-haven assets like bonds, while equity, currency and government debt prices hovered fairly close break-even as the U.S. economic data and developments in Europe were not enough to break out of recent range-bound levels.
Spain presented a budget projected to save more than 27 billion euros in 2012 through spending cuts and revenue increases, while euro zone finance ministers agreed to raise their financial firewall to contain the region's debt crisis.
Spain's budget and the rescue fund move were largely expected by markets, and a spike in the euro against the dollar faded to a more modest rise.
The euro edged higher against the dollar and the yen in choppy trading. The single currency was on track for its best quarter against the dollar in a year, benefiting after the European Central Bank's second injection of cheap long-term funds helped ease euro zone debt worries.
U.S. consumer confidence rebounded to its highest in more than a year in March and consumer spending increased by the most in seven months in February. But the pace of business activity in the Midwest slowed more than expected in March as employment and new orders dropped from elevated levels.
"We have a lot of conflicting data points, a lot of conflicting news," said Camilla Sutton, chief currency strategist at Scotia Capital. "There's no catalyst to break things out of month-long ranges."
Despite a slowdown in manufacturing, as seen by data from the Institute for Supply Management-Chicago, business activity continues to grow, albeit at a slower pace, said David Song, a currency analyst at DailyFX in New York.
The resilience kept the economic outlook looking bright.
"When we take everything into account, it really suggests the economy is getting on a more sustainable path and really curbs the Fed's scope to expand monetary policy further," Song said.
Stocks on Wall Street followed global equity markets up, and after paring initial gains, stayed higher.
European shares rose following a 3-day drop as bargain hunters scooped up cyclical mining and auto shares after the deal over the region's rescue fund.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 64.82 points, or 0.49%, at 13,210.64. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 6.22 points, or 0.44%, at 1,409.50. The Nasdaq Composite Index added up 4.18 points, or 0.14%, at 3,099.54.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares closed up 0.9% at a provisional 1,069.16 points, its best first quarter in six years. The pan-regional index rose almost 7% for the quarter.
MSCI's all-country world equity index added 0.6%, pushing its gain up more than 11% so far this year for its best quarterly performance since the third quarter of 2010.
Prices on U.S. government debt rose, fueled by worries about a slowdown in consumer spending and manufacturing. The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note rose 2/32 in price to yield 2.16%. The 30-year U.S. Treasury bond was flat, yielding 3.27%.
Crude oil rose after three losing sessions, with support from a weaker dollar and expectations of tight gasoline supplies in the United States, the world's largest oil consumer.
Front-month Brent crude futures were up 54 cents to nearly USD 123 a barrel, recovering from their sharpest daily fall in more than three weeks.
U.S. crude futures were up 76 cents at USD 103.53 after their biggest 2-day slide since mid-December.
Fears of supply disruption in the Middle East underpinned oil, but gains were capped by concerns that some Western nations will release oil stocks, increasing supply and tempering prices. There is also a focus on the untamed euro zone crisis.
"Prices are still very range-bound," said Amrita Sen at Barclays in London. "Overall prices are within a range, still constrained by fears on the upside of a strategic petroleum release and on the downside by the strong fundamentals and geopolitical concerns."
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